Harvard University's Caribbean Insects: About Us

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Specimen Collection and Preparation

Collection around the field station

Insect traps such as Malaise traps are set up at places in natural corridors in the forest where insects will encounter them during flight (for more info on collection methods see links at the bottom of this page). Collection methods such as visual search, netting, sweeping, beating and sampling from leaf litter in the nearby reserve are also employed. At night, blacklights and mercury vapor lights are used for hand collecting at suspended sheets, while researchers may also walk trails with headlamps in search of nocturnal species.


In 2002, the first fogging in Hispaniola of a tree canopy to collect arthropods was performed at Parque Nacional del Este (shown in video at right). Fogging is fumigation with biodegradable, pyrethroid fog using a suspended parachute funnel to catch the resulting rain of insects. This procedure is carried out at 4 am when the chance of disruptive winds are lowest. The fogging of a small tree in March 2002 later proved to yield several hundred insect species, including many new species unknown to science.

Back in the lab

Samples of insects are brought into the lab for sorting under microscopes. In the 2002 Harvard course, these samples were sorted and then exchanged among teams of students, each of which were assigned target groups of insects (e.g. moths, crickets, wasps, flies, beetles, true bugs). Each 3 member team included one Dominican member, with each team responsible for mounting, labeling, bar-coding and imaging their particular insect groups before entering the data into a database and subsequent storage of the specimens in the insect cabinets maintained on site.

Bar code labels are a recent third addition to the traditional two labels that respectively record 1) the collecting site, the date and the collector; and 2) the identification of the specimen. Unlike these, the bar code labels are positioned upside down at the bottom of the pin, so that each specimen can be easily passed under a stationary bar code reader attached to a computer running the database, recording the unique specimen number for immediate reference to an individual data record in the database. Partcipants in this exercise learn skills required for establishing a modern biodiversity/ bioinformatics station, following the model of the InBio system in Costa Rica (http://www.inbio.ac.cr/en/default.html).

Links for more information about collecting, pinning and mounting:

Malaise traps: http://www.entosupplies.com.au/Equipment/Field/Traps/malaise_traps.html

General Collection Methods (spiders but same principles apply): http://www.marion.ohio-state.edu/spiderweb/CollectingTechniques.htm

Mounting. pinning and labelling: http://life.bio.sunysb.edu/bio380/collection.htm


Point mounting (ants, but same principles apply): http://www.acad.carleton.edu/curricular/BIOL/resources/ant/PINNING.html

Mounting (beetles but same principles apply): http://www.coleoptera.org/p882.htm

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